Technology
This is not your grandfather’s HAM radio…

Make Ham Radio 1
Here’s a special MAKEZine.com article “This is not your grandfather’s HAM radio” – by Thomas Arey N2EI.

Many folks who read Make probably have an image of their grandfather, father, or kindly older neighbor heading down into their basement to talk to people around the world by way of amateur radio. This classic image of voice (and Morse code) communication is still played out every day in thousands of locations. HF radio communication has long been the mainstay of amateur radio.

In the world of modern electronics communication and experimentation, ham radio has gone well beyond the scope of the basic radio communication that might have been the hobby of your grandfather. Also, amateur radio is the only radio service remaining where participants are encouraged to build, modify and improve their equipment in pursuit of the radio art. This seems to fall right in line with the philosophy of Make.Modern hams routinely experiment with digital communication, computer/radio interfacing and remote control applications. Hams utilize GPS receivers to establish roving beacon stations using digital protocols. Amateur operators participate in advanced communication via satellite and even bounce signals off the Moon. Hams experiment with alternative power production. These activities go well beyond anything your grandfather ever dreamed of sitting in his basement, and they are ripe for further discovery at the hands of dedicated and tenacious members of the Make community.

Becoming a licensed amateur radio operator has never been easier.
Effective July 1, 2006, The F.C.C. made changes to the entry level Technician Class test to make it easier to study and pass. The test is 35 questions long, multiple-choice, covering very basic rules and electronic theory. There is no longer a code proficiency requirement for getting started in amateur radio. With the new test procedures, any Make reader could probably pass the current exam with a few hours of study each evening for about two weeks. I know of many folks who have even passed after study over a long weekend.

Unlike when your grandfather got his ham ticket, you no longer need to trek into a major city to find the F.C.C. offices to take your amateur exams. There is now a volunteer examination program run nationwide by trained hams who can administer the test, usually in a much more convenient location than in the past. Locations for these VE sessions can be found at several places on the Internet but I would recommend looking things up first at: http://www.arrl.org/arrlvec/examsearch.phtml

The American Radio Relay League (the national organization for hams, responsible for the above mentioned web site) produces an excellent study guide to get you started in ham radio.

Make Ham Radio 2

The ARRL Ham Radio License Manual
Level 1 – Technician
By Ward Silver, N0AX, et al
283 Pages
$25.95
ISBN 0-87259-963-9
The American Radio Relay League
225 Main Street
Newington, CT 06111-1494
www.arrl.org

This study guide not only takes you through all the study information you need to pass the test, it also gives you sound information on how to begin your amateur radio activities once you receive your license. The information needed to successfully pass the Technician Class test is presented in easy to read and understand modules. The ARRL has decades of experience in helping people join the amateur radio community, so their training tools are well respected in the ham radio world.

So you’ve studied and passed the test… Now what?

Make Ham Radio 3
You can begin enjoying Ham Radio with a basic handheld transceiver.

Most folks begin their ham radio experience with a simple handheld transceiver that covers the 2 Meter Amateur Radio band (144 – 148 MHz) The bulk of this range of frequencies is devoted to repeater operation. By utilizing remotely controlled repeaters, located in high locations, a low power handheld transceiver has the ability to communicate over much greater distances, even around the world. Repeater stations are set up by individuals or groups of hams to extend radio communication that often serves to aid in emergencies and other important activities. Some ham repeater systems are operated as IRLP nodes. IRLP stands for Internet Radio Linking Project which is an application of the Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) applied to ham radio. Using these modern technologies, world wide communication far beyond anything your grandfather ever imagined, is possible.

Starting with the basics mentioned above, even the sky isn’t the limit. The most basic amateur radio license gives any ham the opportunity to set up equipment to communicate through any of a number of amateur radio satellites currently orbiting the earth. These satellites are designed and built by groups of hams around the world and are usually deployed during regular commercial satellite launches. There is even a ham radio station on the International Space Station. Many astronauts have their ham licenses (or get them during their training period) and operate from space, talking with ground based hams using very basic equipment.

But most appealing to people who read Make, hams can experiment, modify and construct transmitters, receivers, antennas and accessories. It is possible to build every piece of equipment you use to get on the air, often using parts recovered from other surplused or discarded electronics equipment. Amateur radio does not need to be an expensive hobby, especially for someone who reads and understands the ideas regularly presented in Make magazine.

50 thoughts on “This is not your grandfather’s HAM radio…

  1. They actually removed the Morse Code requirement for the entry-level Technician license a few years ago; I passed my no-code Technician license back in 2000.

  2. A free way of getting on the air once you have passed the test is called Echolink. (http://www.echolink.org) All you need for this is a working computer, internet access, a mic, speakers, and your ham ticket. It will let you talk to people all around the world via computer. People will be hearing your voice on the repeaters in no time.

  3. Actually when I passed my technician test in 1996 they had already removed the code requirement. The only thing that happened July 1st of this year was a test bank revision. My wife just passed her test on July 8th.

  4. My fourteen year old son, now KG6ZUB, passed his Technician Test last year, after he and I used Gordon West’s book…I have been licensed since 1978, as KB6GK. When I took the code and theory tests, it was in a granite federal building in San Francisco. I passed the Novice, General, and Advanced Class tests in one day. I became an Extra recently. The tests are now definitely easier! Thanks for this nice article. And I believe that is the SST xcvr in the photo. I built one of those a while back. Anybody interested should look at the Elecraft KX1 kit. Elecraft has brought back the fun of ham radio kits…
    Ron Giuntini

  5. There have been no-code licenses in amateur radio since 1992. I should know, I started as a no-code tech in 1992 and a year later had my extra.

    I’m an extra with the 20WPM code which gives me the right to complain about watering down the hobby.

    Unfortunatley in my area the 2m and 70cm bands are filled with tracker bots and not much else. I’d love to get into ATV etc but it’s just too damned expensive right now.

  6. I’m a licensed Ham and I have just finished building an Elecraft K2. As far as I can tell, it is the largest electronics kit available anywhere. The thing is amazing.

    As for morse code, the international body as decreed that morse code is no longer necessary to be allowed on the HF bands. Many countries have changed their licensing structure because of this and there is a big debate going on right now as to whether the FCC will keep the morse code requirement on the General and Extra class licenses or drop it.

    Still… if you like building stuff… look at the Elecraft K2 and tell me that isn’t an awesome kit (especially with the add-ons you can get like the KPA100, KAT100, etc)

  7. If any of you want to give me a radio check. Give me a call on 10.033.0 USB. I work at an HF station.
    I monitor four freqs: 13.330, 21.964, 17.940, 10.033
    kg4zsi
    South Florida

  8. Note to the headline writer:

    It’s not HAM radio, it’s ham radio. “Ham” is not an abbreviation.

    (Yes, I know there’s a story about H.A.M. being the initials of the names of 3 ships. But there is no evidence the story is true.)

  9. Most local clubs will also run classes, or have books to lend, i wouldnt limit yourself to UHF/VHF repeaters, while fun, the real excitment is on the HF bands, i would study hard and at least get the 5wpm code with your tech so you can get on 40m and 10m, or study doubly hard and get your general.

    -KD8DAO

  10. Hey all. In Canada (eh), there is also no requirement for a morse code. You can get your Basic, then Advanced, and optionally get your 5 word-per-minute or 12 word-per-minute.

    Anyone in Canada interested in Amateur Radio should visit http://www.rac.ca/

    RAC is Canada’s National Amateur Radio Society, and speaks on behalf of Amateur interests to Industry Canada, the governing body over the frequency spectrum in Canada.

    –VA3MWL, aka Shadyman

  11. Passing the entry level test is now easier than ever, every household should have at least one Ham. Not only is it a fun hobby (Hamborees, field days, hamfests) Hams play an important role to emergency communications when the crap hits the fan.

    Just a few weeks ago a local county lost 911 and communication services for many hours – Hams bridged the gap. A Ham or two was placed at each station and they worked communication between fire and police stations.

    Also, imagine being on the front lines of communication of parades, marches, and other events. Lots of event coordinators utilize Hams for communications.

  12. Passing the entry level test is now easier than ever, every household should have at least one Ham. Not only is it a fun hobby (Hamborees, field days, hamfests) Hams play an important role to emergency communications when the crap hits the fan.

    Just a few weeks ago a local county lost 911 and communication services for many hours – Hams bridged the gap. A Ham or two was placed at each station and they worked communication between fire and police stations.

    Also, imagine being on the front lines of communication of parades, marches, and other events. Lots of event coordinators utilize Hams for communications.

  13. The first picture is a 20 meter QRP transciver. It was a kit developed by the NorCal QRP group some years back and I’ve doen about 20 modifications on it since I first built it.

  14. If you are interested in ham radio and want more information about how the hobby “works”, you might try my “Ham Radio for Dummies”. (www.dummies.com/go/hamradio) The license guide will help you pass the exam and HRforD will help you get on the air and make contacts.

    73 (“best regards” as we say in the radio biz)
    Ward – ham call sign N0AX

  15. If you are interested in ham radio and want more information about how the hobby “works”, you might try my “Ham Radio for Dummies”. (www.dummies.com/go/hamradio) The license guide will help you pass the exam and HRforD will help you get on the air and make contacts.

    73 (“best regards” as we say in the radio biz)
    Ward – ham call sign N0AX

  16. If you are interested in ham radio and want more information about how the hobby “works”, you might try my “Ham Radio for Dummies”. (www.dummies.com/go/hamradio) The license guide will help you pass the exam and HRforD will help you get on the air and make contacts.

    73 (“best regards” as we say in the radio biz)
    Ward – ham call sign N0AX

  17. If you are interested in ham radio and want more information about how the hobby “works”, you might try my “Ham Radio for Dummies”. (www.dummies.com/go/hamradio) The license guide will help you pass the exam and HRforD will help you get on the air and make contacts.

    73 (“best regards” as we say in the radio biz)
    Ward – ham call sign N0AX

  18. The radio or “rig” pictured is the SST (simple superhet transceiver) sold as a kit by Wilderness Radio. It is
    a low transmitter power radio, also known as “QRP”.

    It is supplied as a kit which you then have to
    assemble. It’s a fairly easy one to put together,
    as kits go.

    One beginning in ham radio might be advised to start
    with something with more transmitter power.
    Low power radio often requires a lot of patience and a certain amount of operator experience to make successful contacts on the air.

    On the other hand, building and then
    operating your own radio transceiver can be a
    very satisfying challenge.

    Depending on which version you buy, it can be used on
    the 40, 30 or 20 meter amateur radio bands.

    It is still available for about $100 US by visiting
    this link.

    http://www.fix.net/~jparker/wilderness/sst.htm

    I am not affiliated with the vendor other than purchasing some of thier kits, using them and having lots of fun. I also own the Sierra, another neat little rig, which I think is still available.

    http://www.fix.net/~jparker/wilderness/sierra.htm

    enjoy

  19. The radio or “rig” pictured is the SST (simple superhet transceiver)
    sold as a kit by Wilderness Radio.
    It is a low transmitter power radio with about 3
    watts output, also known as “QRP”.

    It is supplied as a kit which you then have to
    assemble. It’s a fairly easy one to put together,
    as kits go.

    One beginning in ham radio might be advised to start
    with something with more transmitter power.
    Low power radio often requires a lot of patience
    and a certain amount of operator experience to make
    successful contacts on the air.

    On the other hand, building and then
    operating your own radio transceiver can be a
    very satisfying challenge.

    Depending on which version you buy, it can be used on
    the 40, 30 or 20 meter amateur radio bands.

    It is still available for about $100 US, at the website
    http://www.fix.net/~jparker/.

    I am not affiliated with the vendor other than
    purchasing some of thier kits,
    building the kits, using them and having lots of fun.
    I also own the Sierra, another neat little rig,
    which I think is still available also.

    enjoy

  20. I, for one, love using Morse Code, and (only good-naturedly) rue the day that it was removed from the licensure. Morse Code is digital. It’s early digital communications using DIY ethics. Anyway, I’m a Maker, and I’m a ham. Howdy.
    73,
    Jonathan KC7FYS/7J1AWL

  21. Based on the date of the last comment, I thought I would update the information for new readers. The FCC has now completely eliminated the morse code requirement for ALL license class tests and effectively dropped the “Advanced” and “Novice” class licenses. You don’t have to know a single dit or dah to pass the tests, but the questions have changed recently so make sure you have the latest study guide (Extra will be updated July 1, 2008) The entry level is now Technician (no more “Tech Plus”), followed by General and Extra. There are lots of kits out there to build, including computer/radio interfaces that let you completely control a radio by computer, or transmit/receive digital signals over the radio (like digital voice, Slow Scan TV, Teletype, Moonbounce, etc). See ya on the digital modes!

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